To begin with a tedious yet necessary disclaimer: I am not Israeli, nor do I visit Israel often. The last time I arrived in Israel was in 2007, for my Bar Mitzvah. The United States is my home and I intend to live here for the rest of my life. The election results on March 17th will not affect me, at least in any direct way. This is a choice for Israelis and Israelis alone to make. This is an opinion piece, something worth far less than a ballot.
Caring about Israel was not something that came to me naturally. Although a few members of my family live there, Zionism was never seriously discussed in my house. Attending a Religious Zionist High School was the first time I was forced to reconcile my liberal democratic beliefs with Zionism. I came out with a deep appreciation of the bedrock principles of the State of Israel, which include “equality of social and political rights to all its inhabitants irrespective of religion, race or sex…freedom of religion, conscience, language, education and culture”.
These were consensus positions throughout the decades. The Likud represented the Right, but they understood that an illiberal Israel where jingoisms and demagoguery prevailed was unworthy of the Jewish people. I can say with confidence that Ze’ev Jabotinsky would have no home in today’s Likud. Menachem Begin would likewise be denounced as a quisling and a “leftist” from these circles.
I support a two-state solution based on the pre-1967 borders, but that’s not, fundamentally, what this election is about. Any peace agreement will almost certainly be put to a referendum. Those who believe Israel’s geopolitical position has not changed since 1968 will have their opportunity to express their views. This election is about Israel, and what values it will represent. Will it be the liberal democracy its founders wanted or it will continue to go down the dangerous path it is on now?
I am supporting the ‘Zionist Camp’ of Isaac Herzog and Tzipi Livni not because I think they will make peace with the Palestinians but because I think they will bring peace to Israel, a necessary precursor. Israel needs a government that will promote friendly Jewish-Arab relations instead of pandering to racists with superfluous and dangerous laws. Israel needs a government that will improve relations with the United States and Europe, and not subscribe to the fatalism of a Prime Minister who has utterly failed, in almost every possible way, to keep Israel safe in both the diplomatic and security arena.
If recent polls are to believed, the Zionist Camp has a chance. An outside chance, to be sure, but anything can happen in two and a half months. The future of Israel is at stake. If a fully right-wing government is elected and lasts until 2019, the social and political damage may be permanent. At the very least I hope the Israeli public denies Netanyahu his dream coalition. In 2009 and 2013 it did, and dangerous legislation was stopped.
Yes, Israel may not be my home, but it is the only option for Jews who flee and have fled persecution. The way Israel treats Arab Israelis will say more about its character and trajectory than its technology industry ever will. The way Israel treats its greatest and magnanimous ally, the United States, will do more to keep Israelis safe than bombast from a nationalist politician.
Electing Isaac Herzog and Tzipi Livni will be a good start.